This is the only thing I want to share today, but it would be a very short article! I want to give it a context and share the reasons why I say this.
A good asana practice should never interrupt the steady flow of the breath, an obvious principle when said but not obvious when the time to apply it comes. The embodiment of this principle in the physical practice of yoga can take a lifetime.
Many things disturb that steadiness in the flow of breath when we practice poses. In my opinion two of them are the greatest ones: unfocused mind and excessive effort. In fact, the extremes move us out from a balanced breath; a déficit in the quality of the mind (due to chaos or overactivity) or an excess in the capacities of the body.
An easy way to encourage the steadiness in the flow of breath in this frame would be to make sure we stay present to what we are doing and we move with detail and sensitivity in the challenges offered by asana practice (looking for precision and integrity more that fighting or forcing the poses!).
The observation of these elements (mind and body) plus the willingness to master the flow of breath can bring great joys to our experience of life moment to moment. Imagine what would happen if we managed to control our body and our mind and at the same time breathe in a generous and open way. It would probably happen that control meets openness and the skills we build are not rigid but have a healthy degree of flexibility. And that is health; a balanced state of mind and a sweet feeling tone. If we only controlled the mind and the body but did not add a nice deep smooth breath we would run the risk of being too much into that controlling quality. Who wants that level of stiffness?
So, up to know, we´ve shared that steady uninterrupted breath, focused mind and sensitive movement would give us a good experience of asana.
Great, but our life is more than asana, right? If we apply the same principles we could say that good life practice should never interrupt the steady flow of breath. In any activity that we perform (or any moment without an activity) we aim to not interrupt the flow of breath. I would say that everything improves with good breath: thinking, speaking, singing, dancing, making love, taking a massage, visiting the dentist, negotiating a contract, buying clothes, choosing food in a restaurant, telling someone you love them, telling someone you don´t love them, being who you are, etc.
Why is this so? Apart from all the philosophy related to vitality described by the yogis, there is a physiology to the breath. Breath is the doorway to our physiological coherence. Slow rhythmic breath modifies the heartbeat and the heart as a major organizer organ starts sending coherent signals to other organs that will also start changing their rhythm to synchronize it. The heart sends much of its communication to the brain (and the brain also sends information to the heart, but there is more flow of information from the heart to the brain than viceversa). After a few minutes of slow deep breath the nervous system starts receiving the signal that we are safe. Would you breathe slowly if a lion was chasing you? You would breathe fast, accelerate the heart and get into fight, flight or freeze response. You would let your body know that you are in danger!
When you breathe slowly you are telling your body that you are not in danger, so the alarm systems shut off and the repair systems kick in. The heart beat is a game amongst the two branches of the autonomic nervous system. The sympathetic branch tells the heart to beat, and the parasympathetic puts it to rest. When these branches are working in balance and synchrony the heart beat has a nice stable rhythm (like a good conversation in which one talks and the other listens alternatively in a very natural flow). This is why good breath connects us to our truth, because when we are relaxed we are free from trying to impress others; we feel safe and act with ease and honesty.
Maybe we can now say that good breath encourages a good conversation with life through a balanced experienced in our body.
If you match this with an elevated emotion that you can hold towards yourself, something or someone (love, appreciation, gratitude) your whole system will enter a state of energy, mental clarity and good feeling state.
I love applying this wisdom to my practice and my teaching, blending what we know today about physiology with what we always knew about yoga.
In case it is not clear.
For your own personal study please check www.heartmath.org and any classical text of yoga on prana, pranayama or asana*.
*Recommended authors Van Lysebeth, Iyengar, Desikachar, Richard Rosen, Swami Nirajananda.
Illustration Joe Anderson